Creating time to write is sometimes more challenging than writing itself.
Which barely seems true … until you fail three nights in a row to work on that novel you’ve always dreamed of writing because there just aren’t enough hours in the day gosh darn it.
This, at the very least, is true. Time is finite, and we’re generally pretty bad at managing how we use it. Quick glances at Twitter turn into hour-long scrolls. You can never watch “just one episode.” Because writing so often feels like work, it’s an activity often much less appealing than, well … most other things.
And yet, some days we want nothing more than to have the discipline and even the courage to make more time for pursuing or creative ambitions. We just don’t always know how to make it work.
Sometimes, achievement does involve sacrifice. But while there are some things you don’t have to “give up” completely, there are a few things that you will need to change.
1. Your belief that everything you write has to be perfect. Many aspiring writers frighten and worry themselves out of sitting down to write before they have the chance to put their ideas into words. Why? Because they’re convinced that if they don’t “do it right” the first time, it means they’re somehow failing.
Here’s a valuable lesson to keep at the front of your mind as you’re trying to add regular writing sessions to your schedule each week: You will never write anything perfectly. Not ever. Especially not on your first go with any blank page you come across.
Perfectionism in the creative arts isn’t just overrated — it’s extremely damaging. You’d think that perfectionism would be a valuable asset for a writer, and in some instances (e.g., editing, fact-checking), I suppose it can be. But when it comes to productivity, especially among new(er) aspiring writers, trying to do everything perfectly will only accomplish one thing. It will prevent you from actually progressing toward your goals. And … well, that’s bad.
If you want to dedicate more of your “free time” to writing, you have to let go of your need to do everything perfectly. You should still aim to compose quality work, and you shouldn’t lazily rush through something just to get it done. But you don’t have to spend an hour making sure one small detail is totally accurate or spend weeks making sure you’re using the best techniques before you even sit down to write something.
The best way to learn as a writer — and the most valuable use of your writing time — is to spend as much of that time actively writing as possible. Don’t constantly reread everything you write. Don’t spend your writing time researching instead. Learn by doing. Learn by making mistakes. Use your time wisely.
2. Your “nine-to-five workday” mindset. Giving this up isn’t easy or even all that desirable for everyone. Some people generally prefer to start their workday at eight, enjoy their hour-long lunch break, clock out at five, get home by six, and spend the rest of their evening doing absolutely nothing. “Recovering from the workday” some call it.
Here’s a bit of truth you might not like: If you refuse to accept that writing is almost never a nine-to five, Monday-through-Friday kind of job, then writing might not actually be the right career or even a fitting hobby for you. Not because you aren’t capable of it or even because you aren’t good at it, but because writing often does not happen during a “normal” workday. And you have no choice but to figure out where it fits in instead.
Now, there are almost an infinite number of ways an aspiring writer can make this work. Writing during a commute (there and back) is sometimes an option. Writing early in the morning or late at night when the rest of your household is asleep is a common favorite. Working five days a week at your day job and working a sixth day on writing is a method I’m still testing out — and it’s not nearly as inconvenient as it might seem.
This “workaround method” is extremely complicated. Treating your writing like a part-time job pretty much changes everything — which is great productivity-wise (or it can be), but extremely challenging when it impacts the people around you, their schedules, and the way they prefer to construct their work and personal lives.
There are going to be many people in your life who don’t understand the concept of “doing the work whenever it’s possible or most convenient” even if that means working until 11 p.m. a few nights a week or on a Sunday afternoon. You might even be one of those people.
For creators, the traditional five-day, forty-hour workweek usually does not apply. If you can accept that, you can figure out how to compromise — and help those around you do the same.
3. Your lack of flexibility. Of these three, this is probably the one I still need to put the most work into coping with. I’m very rigid in my schedules and routines like many of you might be. I don’t like it when I have a plan and things fall apart. But one of the most important things I learned last year is that you have to go with the flow, or you’ll never get your work done.
You can’t mope around and talk yourself down every time something out of your control messes up your schedule, and you definitely can’t mentally beat yourself up every time you say you’re going to write but don’t end up doing it. When things like this happen, you have to be proactive and use the experience to come up with a strategy that will lead to a better outcome the next time a similar situation presents itself.
Let’s say, for example, that you plan to spend a few hours each Saturday morning in February writing in the quiet early morning hours. That sounds like a great plan — there should be few distractions, you can do it while you’re still warm and cozy, and ideally, you can do it first thing, start your day off right, and not have to worry about it for the rest of the weekend.
But because plans almost always find a way to tangle themselves up in the process of execution, you first have to create a schedule “in pencil” (metaphorically, unless you really do prefer pencil and paper in this context). Things are going to change. If you approach your schedule expecting this, you’ll not only be prepared to pivot — you’ll also be pleasantly surprised on the occasions things actually do go your way.
When Saturday morning hits and you wake up several hours later than you planned (relatable), the weather outside makes you want to curl up on the couch and hide under a blanket, and doing several hours of work is the absolute last thing you want to be doing, what do you do? Do you force yourself to write anyway? Do you abandon your writing plans altogether?
Making time for writing requires significant adaptability. And how do you develop this? Practice. Over time, you learn over and over again that when you’re truly determined to accomplish something, you can and will put in the extra effort to make sure it happens — especially when it feels like the universe isn’t going to let it happen.
Making good use of your time is only part of the equation. To adjust your chances of success, you first have to shift your attitude. The more you’re willing to change, the more likely you are to see the results you want most.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.